In which a group of graying eternal amateurs discuss their passions, interests and obsessions, among them: movies, art, politics, evolutionary biology, taxes, writing, computers, these kids these days, and lousy educations.

E-Mail Donald
Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

E-Mail Fenster
College administrator and arts buff

E-Mail Francis
Architectural historian and arts buff

E-Mail Friedrich
Entrepreneur and arts buff
E-Mail Michael
Media flunky and arts buff

We assume it's OK to quote emailers by name.

Try Advanced Search

  1. Magic Eye
  2. Elsewhere
  3. Jargon Update
  4. Read Mike Snider!
  5. Moviegoing: "Freddy vs. Jason"; "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind"; "Jeepers Creepers 2"
  6. Tacit Knowledge -- Thugs
  7. Interview With Mike Snider, Part 2
  8. 10 Things I Like About Being a Parent #3--Tools
  9. Interview With Mike Snider, Part One
  10. More on Sidewalks and Waistlines

Sasha Castel
AC Douglas
Out of Lascaux
The Ambler
Modern Art Notes
Cranky Professor
Mike Snider on Poetry
Silliman on Poetry
Felix Salmon
Polly Frost
Polly and Ray's Forum
Stumbling Tongue
Brian's Culture Blog
Banana Oil
Scourge of Modernism
Visible Darkness
Thomas Hobbs
Blog Lodge
Leibman Theory
Goliard Dream
Third Level Digression
Here Inside
My Stupid Dog
W.J. Duquette

Politics, Education, and Economics Blogs
Andrew Sullivan
The Corner at National Review
Steve Sailer
Joanne Jacobs
Natalie Solent
A Libertarian Parent in the Countryside
Rational Parenting
Colby Cosh
View from the Right
Pejman Pundit
God of the Machine
One Good Turn
Liberty Log
Daily Pundit
Catallaxy Files
Greatest Jeneration
Glenn Frazier
Jane Galt
Jim Miller
Limbic Nutrition
Innocents Abroad
Chicago Boyz
James Lileks
Cybrarian at Large
Hello Bloggy!
Setting the World to Rights
Travelling Shoes

Redwood Dragon
The Invisible Hand
Daze Reader
Lynn Sislo
The Fat Guy
Jon Walz


Our Last 50 Referrers

Saturday, September 6, 2003

Magic Eye
Friedrich -- I recently picked up (at B&N, on sale, for next to nothing) one of those Magic Eye books. Remember Magic Eye images? Bizarro computer things that look like a screenful of color-TV static? You stare at them, let your eyes relax and your mind drift, and (holy cow!!!!) a 3-D image opens up before you. As long as you stay in that drifty-yet-alert optical-mental state, you can rove around inside the image, which usually resembles a miniature diorama carved out of confetti. But if you start to think too much about it, or try to focus your eyes too tightly on a detail, oops! And away it slips. I've always found the Magic Eye images intriguing. First because it's a neat trick. But mostly because I find the optical-mental state they demand (and foster) fascinating. It's close to a meditative state, and it's very refreshing. I come away from 10 or 30 minutes of staring at Magic Eye images as relaxed and calm as I do from a Zen session. I find myself thinking, gee, these images are like computer-generated mandalas! And I wonder if any CAT-scan-type research has been done on the brain activity of people looking at Magic Eye images. (Did a Web sweep; turned up nothing.) I also chuckle a bit. You know how people who rely on modernist ways of explaining art and who are trying to make art seem important and scientific often fall back on the "it changes your perceptions" argument? Well, I've run across very little art that's as effective at changing my perceptions as staring at Magic Eye images is. Does this mean they're art? Heck, given how powerfully and how quickly the Magic Eye images usher me into an altered state, perhaps it means that they've rendered art irrelevant. Or does it simply mean (as I suspect it does) that the "it changes your perceptions" art-justification line was always a weak one? In any case, here's Magic Eye's own website. I find making the 3-D thing happen while staring at a computer screen a little more difficult than it is when looking at a book but still quite do-able. How about you? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 6, 2003 | perma-link | (17) comments

Friedrich -- * I've got the worst batting-average imaginable when it comes to predicting the next hot "issue," but it's beginning to look like, for once, I'm onto something. (Hey, it happens.) As you know, I've been scratching my head for years over the topic of immigration -- especially the way that, even while many Americans are frankly worried about the question, the issue has so seldom become public. Now it's becoming public. A few incidators: here's an interview with Victor Davis Hanson about his new book, "Mexifornia." And here's a review of the book by James Q. Wilson. * This kind of planning or that kind of planning? Well, how about no-planning? Chris Bertram (here) found this interesting piece (here) by Paul Barker on OpenDemocracy about Cedric Price, an English architect who was so appalled by the destructiveness of post-WW2 planning that he floated the idea of the "non-plan." Chris' new book about Rousseau has just been published in England, by the way (buyable here); it'll go on sale in the States in November. * I've got a copy of Virginia Postrel's new book The Substance of Style (buyable here) but, to my shame, haven't read it yet. I'm looking forward to it, though: aesthetics, utility, taste, prosperity -- sounds provocative, enjoyable, helpful and downright 2Blowhardsish. She strikes me as one of the freshest, most alert thinkers around. For the moment I'm making do with this good q&a here that Sage Stossel has done with Postrel for The Atlantic Unbound. Here's Postrel's own excellent blog. * A new cultureblog discovery, at least for me: Ionarts (here). High-end, civilized blogging that reveals 2Blowhards for the shiftless, cheesy, no-account tabloid it really is. * I haven't followed pop music for almost 20 years now. I can't get past the feeling -- and, to be honest, I long ago stopped trying -- that it's music for kids. The last popster I paid attention to was Elvis Costello, whose range and variety of attacks continued to hold my interest, at least for a while. I wonder if any of his recent CDs are worth checking out. I did find this interview with Costello that Simon Hattenstone did for the Guardian here worth reading; Costello, who has a new CD of love songs coming out in a few weeks, has certainly lost none of his cussedness, his garrulousness, or his perversity. * Tim Radford reports in the Guardian that scientists are more likely than lib-arts types to believe in God, here. A nice passage: Colin Humphreys says that quite a number of his colleagues at Cambridge are also believers. "My impression is - and it is just an impression - that there are many more scientists on the academic staff who are believers than arts people." Tom McLeish says something similar. He cheerfully offers several reasons why that might be so, one of which might be called the postmodernist effect. "Our dear friends in the humanities do get themselves awfully confused about whether the... posted by Michael at September 6, 2003 | perma-link | (6) comments

Jargon Update
Friedrich -- Remember that recent posting (here) where I spent some time marveling at how sexed-up girls are these days, as well as how young some of these girls are? 2Blowhards visitor Mark Worden wrote in to pass along some hilarious slang terms I hadn't run into. Here are two ways of referring to sexed-up girl-children: prostitots, and eleventeen ho's. And here's a name for college girls who are sluttishly gotten-up: sorostitutes -- sorority plus prostitute. Mark points out that he didn't invent these terms; they're currently in use among kids. Some semi-scholarly online references: here and here . That second link, by the way, takes you to a page that features some other neat new slang terms too. Thanks to Mark Worden. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 6, 2003 | perma-link | (1) comments

Read Mike Snider!
Friedrich -- Do you suppose there are visitors to 2Blowhards who haven't yet read our q&a with the poet and blogger Mike Snider? I hope they'll treat themselves to it now. Mike's a terrific poet and an interesting thinker, and he has a view of the arts (and a way of interacting with them) that's quite wonderful. Part one of the q&a is here. Part two is here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 6, 2003 | perma-link | (0) comments

Friday, September 5, 2003

Moviegoing: "Freddy vs. Jason"; "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind"; "Jeepers Creepers 2"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Friedrich -- I've been seeing more current movies than usual, and have even been enjoying a few. So, herewith, M. Blowhard's weekend moviegoing tips. * Don't miss my fave current movie, Freddy Vs. Jason, which I posted about here. Directed by the zany and talented Ronny ("Bride of Chucky") Yu, it's demented, trashy fun, intense and hilarious all at once. I'm happy to call it "pretty brilliant," and I stand ready to face down all the jeering and scorn that assertion will probably prompt. * Another movie whose quality took me completely by surprise is Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, an amazing George Clooney/Charlie Kaufman collaboration. It's an adaptation of Chuck Barris' semi-legendary, weirdo autobiographical fantasia. Barris was the guy behind such tack-ola TV shows as "The Dating Game" and "The Gong Show." After hitting the top (which was also a nadir), he dropped out of the industry, had himself a gigantic personal crisis, and pulled out of it by writing his memoirs, in which he claimed that during his TV years he'd also worked as a CIA hit man. Clooney and Kaufman take Barris at his word, though they also leave you wondering how much of this might have been Barris' fantasy -- an expression of his need to find some meaning in his life, or maybe just to aggrandize himself. The film goes back and forth in styles: Barris' sweaty, gotta-make-it-at-all-costs TV career is presented as a kind of cocaine hysteria, and his CIA adventures are presented as expressionist reverie. (There are also "documentary" passages -- quick interviews with Barris' colleagues, a glimpse of Barris himself.) It's one of Kaufman's best scripts (he's best-known for "Adaptation" and "Being John Malkovich"), and Clooney turns out to be a terrific director. The film's well worth going to the trouble of seeing at a theater -- it's beautifully shot and recorded, and full of virtuosic staging, framing, color and lighting choices. Fans wanting to sharpen their movie-watching skills might want to take special note of how well Clooney works with the cast, right down to the one-scene extras. Everyone's always coming across with a little something surprising and distinctive, as well as some extra energy and fizz -- that's the mark of a real actors' director. But Clooney doesn't bog down in the acting, sensational as it is; he keeps the visuals and aurals interesting as well, something many actor-directors don't find a way to do. I especially enjoyed the way he stands just a wee bit outside Kaufman's point of view, poisonously and malicously throwing darts at all the ingrown self-absorption on display. Watching the film, the Wife and I were both reminded of the satirical SoCal classic, "Lord Love a Duck"; the Wife tells me she was also reminded of "The Manchurian Candidate." There were passages in the film that were so black-hearted yet emotional that I also found myself thinking of the only film Charles Laughton ever directed, "The Night of the Hunter." Here's... posted by Michael at September 5, 2003 | perma-link | (7) comments

Tacit Knowledge -- Thugs
Friedrich -- I was talking with a friend about gangsters and movies, and I was no doubt unwittingly putting on display what a smalltown rube I remain. My friend, who grew up in a genuinely Scorsese-esque world -- he still refers to it as "the Neighborhood" -- interrupted me. "You don't get these guys," he said. "And neither do most of the movies and shows about them." "I don't? What's missing?" "What you don't understand about these guys is why they do it," he said. "OK," I said. "Which is why?" I was eager for his explanation, expecting observations and insights steeped in sin and lust, at the very least. "These guys," my friend said, leaning closer and looking around us to make sure no one was looking, "they take up the life because they're lazy, that's why. What people don't realize is that what motivates most thugs is that they don't want to have to do any real work in order to make a living. They're lazy, that's what." Wisdom from the Neighborhood. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 5, 2003 | perma-link | (9) comments

Interview With Mike Snider, Part 2
Friedrich -- Continuing our interview with the poet and blogger Mike Snider. Part One can be seen here. Mike's own blog is here -- please do pay it a visit. 2Blowhards: Some general rube-like musings and whinings ... I make an effort to read some contempo poetry, I'm interested and open -- yet often when I've finished lingering over a new poem I wind up thinking, Whew, that certainly wasn't worth the effort. It's all lyric, and it's all manufactured epiphanies, few of which I find I can buy. While often when I listen to country and western, for instance, I'll think, Wow, rhyme, rhythm, cleverness, wordplay, concision: pleasure! How much of this can we blame on me and my rube-ishness, and how much on what's become of the poetry world itself? I get a kick out of such poets as Betjeman, Larkin, Wendy Cope -- easy to enjoy, easy to appreciate. And I'd recommend them to people who gripe about nothing of worth being published in ages. I have my modernist pleasures too (Dennis Cooper, Charles Simic), but I'd be shyer about pushing them on people. Modernist pleasures are usually rather special ones. Mike Snider: From one rube to another, Betjeman, Larkin, and Cope are pretty wonderful, and there aren't many out there who can match them. But the first two are dead, and Cope's last book, after long years of nothing, isn't up to her first two. Richard Wilbur, now in his 80s, continues to write marvelous poetry and to produce incredible verse translations of classical French theater. Among at least somewhat younger folk (some a lot younger) I like Alicia Stallings, Tim Murphy, Rhina Espaillot, Jenny Factor, and Kim Addonizio, but I think R. S. (Sam) Gwynn may be my favorite these days. His "No Word of Farewell: Selected Poems, 1970-2000" is in print (and buyable here), and includes selections from the incredibly funny mock-epic "The Narcissiad," in which the poets make war on each other until only one is left. Sam describes the eventual winner early on: Confident in his art, he knows he's great Because his subsidy comes from the State For teaching self-expression to the masses In jails, nut-houses, worse, in grad-school classes In which his sermon is (his poems show it) That anyone can learn to be a poet. With pen in hand he takes the poet's stance To write, instead of sonnets, sheaves of grants Which touch the bureaucrats and move their hearts To turn the spigot on and flood the arts With cold cash, carbon copies, calculators, And, for each poet, two administrators. In brief, his every effort at creation Is one more act of self-perpetuation To raise the towering babble of his Reputation. That's not calculated to win friends in the academic poetry establishment. Neither is this more serious piece: At Rose's Range Old Gladys, in lime polyester slacks, Might rate a laugh until she puts her weight Squarely behind the snubnosed .38, Draws down and pulls. The bulldog muzzle... posted by Michael at September 5, 2003 | perma-link | (1) comments

10 Things I Like About Being a Parent #3--Tools
Michael: One of the things I like about being a parent has been the chance to rediscover the magic of hand tools. My 2-year-old son is fascinated with them; he prefers going to the hardware store to the toy store. Getting a new tool as a present is a major event; he’ll carry it with him for days, putting it in his toolbox or tucking it in his belt as he goes around the house busily fixing things. (I was flabbergasted when he didn't want to go outside and play one day; he explained, perfectly seriously: "I'm too busy fixing things.") Big Enough For You? Anyway, I know where he’s coming from; I used to covet hand tools from my father’s workbench in the basement. (I grew up in the Midwest; everybody had a basement.) Some of them were beautiful, some of them were fascinatingly antique—like the ancient hand-drill my father inherited from his uncle, a tool-and-die maker. They all had an incredible “vibes.” They spoke of power, of competency, of craft, of design and of skill. They were also sometimes miracles of design in themselves: big drill bits have always struck me as a form of highly intellectual thought cast in hardened steel. The fact that they were driven by muscle-power made them extensions of your body, just as the care and forethought you had to use in exercising them made them extensions of your brain. (Although I dimly recall that my father owned power tools, I have virtually no memory of them—they were merely practical, while the magic was all in the hand-tools.) When I was in art school, I noticed that in making my sculptures and installations I spent far more time in the hardware store than in the art supply store. I needed wood, stains, rubber mats, powerful glues, astro-turf, angle irons, carriage bolts—and they were all there on the shelves. I remember looking at big crow bars and steel rods that were six feet long, octagonal in cross-section with sharpened points (some kind of a gardening tool?) and thinking, “I’ll get around to you one day, buster.” Art Supplies? I know I’m not the only person who is immediately sent into daydreams by hand tools. I remember seeing some lovely rich charcoal drawings of tools by Jim Dine, who was raised by some relative (a grandfather, I think) who owned a hardware store. J. Dine, Lithograph from "Pictures" Book Project And Mr. Dine and I aren’t alone in appreciating the aesthetics of tools. You can tell, looking at a lot of snazzily designed tools on display, that how they look is a not-inconsiderable part of what sells a lot of tools. I mean, have you seen the more “advanced” hammers and hammer-like tools for sale today? These things are little sculptural miracles gleaming on the racks of your local hardware store. Little Sculptural Miracles So when my son says, “Daddy, I want to see your tools,” I’m pretty much always ready to take them down... posted by Friedrich at September 5, 2003 | perma-link | (7) comments

Thursday, September 4, 2003

Interview With Mike Snider, Part One
Friedrich -- I don't know about you, but I'm left in the dust by the work of most contempo poets and poetry critics. Happy to admit that I'm a long way from being an expert. On the other hand, what kind of art form would demand that a reader/consumer/spectator be an expert before beginning to enjoy its products? And if I'm a long way from being a specialist, I'm also a long way from being the world's worst poetry-reader. I'm eager and interested, my basic feeling about poetry being "Hey, little crafted verbal things? Cool!" I've also got what passes these days for a decent lit education, and, heck, I do some actual contempo-poetry reading. I've even got a few poet friends. Yet, yet ... Jesus, an awful lot of the poetry (and poetry-discussion) that I look at delivers very little for the amount of effort it demands. Some exceptions: Tom Disch (also a first-rate poetry critic). Vikram Seth. Frederick Turner. Charles Simic. Dennis Cooper. Dana Gioia. Some other names my tired brain isn't volunteering at the moment. For the last year I've also been enjoying the work of Mike Snider, a poet who runs a blog here, where he publishes some of his poems and writes about poetry. I took to Mike's poems first. They're charmers -- often offhand-seeming, sometimes erotic, sometimes ruefully humorous, sometimes flat-out emotional (in a restrained kind of way). Pleasingly weatherbeaten while also showing off a lot of clarity ... "Deceptively casual" is the usual term for this kind of thing -- work that looks easy, that's genuinely fun to experience, yet that delivers real payoffs. Then I got further into Mike's concerns and point-of-view: hmmm, the importance of artistic form, the challenge of making room in life for art, an interest in evo-bio and neuroscience, the pleasures of minor art ... Well, I gotta say I found it freaky how very right he is. Or maybe, to be more modest and honest, how much his interests overlap with mine. So I kicked off an email correspondence. As we swapped messages, Mike struck me as so interesting that I slyly turned the discussion into a q&a with him. With Mike's permission, and in the hope that visitors to 2Blowhards will find the results enjoyable, I've edited our correspondence into the following conversation. If it's a little rough and awkward (is this an interview or a conversation?), that's all my fault. Please don't let that get in the way. I especially hope everybody will treat themselves to a visit to Mike's blog, which is here. It's first-rate; he's generous to other poets yet firm in his own convictions, and he's interested in the arts in a broad way. And his own poetry's a reminder of how delightful and moving little crafted verbal things can be. I like Mike's work and mind a lot; I've also got the greatest respect for his approach to art. This is part one of the interview. I'll post part two tomorrow.... posted by Michael at September 4, 2003 | perma-link | (4) comments

More on Sidewalks and Waistlines
Friedrich -- A few days ago I cited a study linking urban sprawl to obesity and high blood pressure. Bradford McKee in the NYTimes discusses the studies here, and does a good job of consulting with skeptics as well as public-health and New-Urbanist types. Sample passage: Stay-at-home wives have often complained about the isolation of suburbia, working parents point to the killer commutes and teenagers moan about the boredom. Now Dr. Jackson believes there are persuasive, if yet circumstantial, links between the suburbs and certain physical and mental diseases. If so, he said, the building of larger and larger suburbs might be viewed as a colossal mistake. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 4, 2003 | perma-link | (2) comments

CD Prices
Friedrich -- I was thrilled to read this morning that Universal is cutting music-CD prices by 30%. The dam may finally be breaking, and huzzah to that. But I can't be the only person reacting to the announcement by thinking, Sheesh, what took so long? I'd love to know the answer and haven't run across it in any of the coverage. Haven't people hated absurd CD prices for ages and ages? And I know that Naxos has developed itself a nice little business by selling classical-music CDs for attractive prices. So why has it taken the majors so long to make a move on prices? A matter of pure greed? Of inertia? But aren't markets supposed to respond more quickly than that? So do we blame it on Evil Monopoly Control? Or has it just been a matter of a bunch of Goliaths staring at each anxiously, their hands on their holstered guns, saying, "You first, pardner"? Do you know the answer? Do any of our visitors? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 4, 2003 | perma-link | (10) comments

Art Joke
Friedrich -- Q. What's the difference between a fine artist and a commercial artist? A. One of them has to make a living. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 4, 2003 | perma-link | (3) comments

Wednesday, September 3, 2003

Friedrich -- * Florence Fabricant reports (in the NYTimes, here) that enrollment at professional culinary programs has jumped 20-100 percent since 2001. * "Metrosexuality"? What's that? Felix Salmon explains the term here. I also notice that Felix felt about as enthusiastic (not) about "American Splendor" as I did, here. * A cab driver once told me that he liked to end his night's work by stopping outside Chippendale's. "Why's that?" I asked. "Because after the show's over, that's where the city's horniest women can be found," he said. "And they've already bought and paid for as many drinks as they're going to need." (He was no metrosexual.) Yahmdallah once had a similar inspiration, and tells the story about his adventure here. A hilarious posting -- not to give anything away, but I suspect that he hasn't repeated the experiment. You have to read past the posting's first paragraph to find the story. * The Smithsonian presents a compact intro to South Asian art here. * Should videogames be taught in college? Evan Kirchhoff thinks not, and works up an amusing and persuasive head of steam here. * People are chatting about movie westerns: Spencer Warren (here), Tim Hulsey (here), and Terry Teachout (here). Why did the Western die out? My own shot at an answer is that it didn't, it just changed its clothes and reemerged as the sci-fi movie. Before you laugh, here's the similarity: both genres (by and large) are peddling the pleasures of action-centered heroic morality tales set in mythical landscapes. * Samizdata's Michael Jennings supplies a lot of information and perspective as he tries to make sense out of the summer movie season here. * I noticed a small piece in Chicago Magazine by Randy Minor, who lives in one of Mies van der Rohe's legendary modernist buildings. Despite the building's status, Minor isn't wild about his apartment. Why not? Well, for one thing, those floor-to-ceiling windows are a serious challenge. "My own living habits, however dull, are calculated and self-conscious the minute I walk into my modernist marvel," Minor writes. "The only privacy I have is in a couple of corners in my tiny bathroom and kitchen, where I retreat when I want to be 'alone.'" I couldn't find the piece online, but here's Chicago Magazine's site. * More than half the residents of Miami-Dade County are now foreign-born, reports Matthew Waite in the St. Petersburg Times here. "Miami-Dade reflects population trends nationally and statewide," writes Waite. "There are now 33-million foreign-born residents in the United States, the Census Bureau reports, a 44 percent increase since 1990." * You're in bed. You're on the verge of sleep. You're sliding into it, sliding, sliding ... And your body twitches. Writing for Discovery here, Hannah Holmes explains what's known about these dropping-into-sleep twitches, a phenomenon evidently called "myclonic jerk." Link thanks to Edgy, here. OK, now back to my own thoughts for a few days ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 3, 2003 | perma-link | (7) comments

Did I Mention the 12.3% Rate of Return?
Michael: Psssst. Let me give you a little investment advice. Forget stocks and bonds: go with art. According to a little graph in the August 23-29 issue of The Economist , over the past 50 years art has significantly outperformed the S&P 500, to say nothing of U.S. 10-year Treasury bonds. If this little chart is to be believed, $100 invested in fine art in 1952 would have grown to approximately $33,000 in 2002. According to a handly little compound growth calculator I found on the Internet, that figures out to around a 12.3% annual compounded rate of return. (And by the way, while the art market is down since its late ‘90’s peak, it’s only down 10%, not the roughly 33% the S&P 500 is down.) Of course, like any other investment advisor, I have a little fine print to disclose. These numbers come from a study performed by Michael Moses at New York University’s Stern School of Business and Jianping Mei. They tracked the prices of some 5,000 paintings that have been repeatedly sold at auction since 1875. My suspicion is that most of these repeatedly auctioned 5,000 paintings are probably Old Master efforts, not your art student brother-in-law's paintings. Oh, yeah, another thing, art prices are kind of volatile, at least since the late 1980s, so if you had to sell at the wrong moment, you probably wouldn't do quite this well. And, one more thing: it might be a good idea to put out a sign saying “For Sale by Owner” if you want to get out of the market without paying extortionate commissions. If you sell at auction, you and the buyer together will have to shell out 25% of the sales price to the auction house. Well, who said getting rich was ever easy? And think about this: while your investments in art won’t pay you any cash income while you own them, they will certainly impress your friends and neighbors, especially if you mention that Rembrandt over there on the wall is earning you a 12.3% compounded annual rate of return. And the best part is, when you know people are seething with envy, you can look noble and say, “Of course, I bought it for the aesthetic returns.” Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at September 3, 2003 | perma-link | (5) comments

Tuesday, September 2, 2003

Friedrich -- Good god but it's hard to keep up with what's wonderful on the web. Correction: it's impossible to keep up with it. But I'm not about to stop trying. * Paul Williams has put out another issue of his enjoyable and impressive one-man magazine Cipher Culture here, and it's full of his quirkily brainy musings on subjects from genetically-modified food to the desire to live forever. Between you and me, I wish Paul would present his thoughts in blog form -- but then, these days, there's almost no one whose thoughts I wouldn't prefer to read in blog form. * It's not a surprise to hear that press agents and entertainment journalists work together closely. It can be surprising, though, to learn just how closely. Toby Young, interviewed in Gawker magazine, explains the significance of uber-publicist Pat Kingsley here. * I diligently maintain a list of books that are considered pop-entertainment classics and every now and then even get around to reading one of the books on it. Most recently, I caught up with Gregory MacDonald's sorta-PI novel Fletch, buyable here. Have you read it? It's funny, ingenious, and tense -- well-deserving of its reputation, IMHO. And it moves like a freight train -- what a virtuoso display of pacing and flair. I didn't find the gonzo-counterculture journalist-hero as winning as I was meant to, but the book's a dazzler anyway. OK, so "Fletch" isn't a web-thing, it's a book-thing. Want to make something of it? * What I enjoyed most in this absorbing and thoughtful Geoffrey Wheatcroft essay (here) about intellectuals in the post 9/11 world were a few cracks he made about literary writers -- cracks which in my experience are spot-on. "In practice writers are all too often sillier and nastier in their politics than anyone else," Wheatcroft writes. "Imaginative writers are distinguished not by a sweeter character (too often very much not), greater intellectual honesty, or even deeper intelligence, but—apart from the gift of expression which is their stock in trade—a way of looking at the world which is interesting because it is exaggerated or distorted." Link thanks to Arts and Letters Daily (here). * I suppose that, kid-equipped as your household is, you get more than your share of exposure to music videos. Me, I take a peep at that perplexing scene about once a year. What struck me during my most recent glimpse is how overproduced, over art-directed, and over-processed the standard music video is these days. It's pumped to the max and swollen to bursting; every square inch of it is styled to within an inch of its life, and maybe beyond. Bizarre that many people now expect this level of overdone-ness from their audiovisual entertainment. For a movie fan this is a scary reflection because these days ads, video games and music videos are having more of an influence on movies than movie history is. Ah, just what the movies need: more production values. If you've got a fast connection,... posted by Michael at September 2, 2003 | perma-link | (7) comments

Genetics, Environment and IQ
Michael: I’ve been reading a lot recently about environmental impacts on IQ, and I must admit it is kind of intriguing. (I should warn you before I go any further, however, that I’m about to link up a bunch of disparate facts here, and may well end up adding two and two and getting twenty-two. Is your seat belt buckled? Here we go.) There are several paradoxes about the relationship between nature and nurture in the IQ field. On the one hand, IQ clearly has a major genetic element to it. Recent measurements suggest that it appears that variations in the IQ of late adolescents are about 75% explainable in terms of their parents’ IQs. That’s a pretty good theory, right? I mean, few cause-effect explanations in the world of the social sciences are remotely that strong. Case closed—your genes are 75% or more of your fate, intellectually speaking. Ah, but not so fast, buster. This measurement of heritability rises with age. The variations in the IQ of younger children are less explainable in terms of their parent’s IQ than those of late adolescents. Adult IQs are even more explainable in terms of parental IQ than are those of late adolescents. The environment seems to affect IQ more in the case of children than of adults, who appear to “revert” to their genetic “mean.” (The intellectual impacts of programs like “Head Start,” for example, are very noticeable in the first few years of school but vanish by the end of elementary school.) The main explanation I’ve come across in books like Matt Ridley's "Nature via Nurture" is that what is being inherited is perhaps not so much a once-and-for-all serving of smarts, but rather a mixture of smarts and the taste for either using them or ignoring them. Whatever your serving of smarts, it is possible that if you spend a lot of time solving complex equations, playing chess and doing crossword puzzles that your IQ will measure higher than if you sit on the couch watching TV and burping. This explains why the heritability of IQ would go up through your life, because the older you get the more control you have over your time, and the more your environment will come to fit your “taste” either for or against intellectually stimulating pursuits. Well that’s better, but not yet good enough. There are still more tricky facts that need explaining. It turns out that society’s average IQ is rising with the passage of time, at a speed far greater than would seem explainable purely by genetics. Between 1950 and 2000, for example, the average IQ of draftees into the Dutch army rose by 20 IQ points, (i.e., from something like an average of 100 to something like 120). This translates into 1.5 standard deviation improvement in only a few generations. The obvious explanation would be that the environment became more encouraging of the use of smarts—or at least the type of smarts measured by IQ tests—but remember, the standard... posted by Friedrich at September 2, 2003 | perma-link | (21) comments

Moviegoing: "American Splendor"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Friedrich -- The Wife and I weren't wild about the much-praised American Splendor, an indie biopic about the underground-comix phenom Harvey Pekar. Brownie points galore for unusualness -- the movie mixes up acted-and-scripted scenes with shots of the actual Harvey and his family and friends, and it uses comic-book graphics to frame and define things visually. And hats off too to a game cast, led by Paul Giamatti and Hope Davis -- although the wanly pretty, gallantly hopeful Davis struck me as a very peculiar choice to play Harvey's neurotic, depressive wife Joyce. But I didn't find the movie's view of Harvey and Joyce very compelling. This is a lovable, even cute, Harvey Pekar -- Harvey Lite. He's "compulsive," but in a winningly eccentric way; really, he's just a working-class Cleveland Everyguy (with, perhaps, some unusual interests). The real Harvey is something else entirely -- a man with old-time lefty politics, a defiant intellectuality and an insistent anger. He writes jazz and lit crit, and his graphic novels are ambitious, warts-and-all autobiographical things meant to revive a kind of proletarian, Dreiserian realism. (Sample title: "Our Cancer Year.") They're meant to be rueful slices of salt-of-the-earth Americana, and they present as edited a version of Harvey as the movie does. But I've never found them very appealing; I find "Harvey Pekar" about as winning an Everyguy as I do "Michael Moore." I guess the film is OK on its own lightweight, NPR-ish terms; I got a few laughs out of it, at least. But, for me, what's missing overshadowed what was there. Why does Harvey go to the trouble of writing his comic books? Where's the self-centeredness? Where's the craving for attention? Where's the political anger? I've put in my time among fringe people and they're often really maddening -- stubbornly impossible, full of resentment, even frightening. What's missing from the film is any sense of what drives Harvey; and without it the film is left with no motor, just its po-mo tricks, its goodwill, and its spunky performers. But the film doesn't want to be a character study. It's really an attempt to build a sentimental shrine to what it wants "Harvey" to represent, which is marginal America. And so the narrative it delivers is nothing but the Harvey landmarks, organized around a Harvey-finds-redemption theme. OK, fine, sure, I guess .... Yawn. Here's a taste of the real Harvey, from an Amazon reviewer who claims to know Pekar: "I don't know if any movie, no matter who stars in it, could actually capture Harvey as he really is. The movie left out Harvey's studdered [sic] anger, and his depressed gaze. When Harvey ate at a restaraunt with me before this movie opened, someone came up to him and asked for his autograph. Right when he was asked that, he stood up, shook the hand of the person asking for his autograph, signed the piece of paper, and then tore it in two. 'There, I wasted some... posted by Michael at September 2, 2003 | perma-link | (4) comments

Monday, September 1, 2003

Parking Lots and Downtowns
Friedrich -- A while back, Brian Micklethwait (here) and David Sucher (here) put up some memorable postings about car parks. As I recall, their main question was, Why can't car parks be more attractive? I love it when people notice overlooked things such as car parks, and even more when they go on and ask sensible questions about them. Valiantly bringing up the rear, I'm here to pitch in too. What got me thinking my own thoughts about car parks (as well as snapping my own lousy photos of them) was a visit to Santa Barbara, one of America's prettiest small cities (and one that I've blogged about, sort of, here and here). A bit of background. 30-40 years ago, State St., the city's main downtown drag, was dreary and on the decline. Malls were drawing the easy shopping traffic away, and the town decided it was time to act. It was clear that decaying and inconvenient couldn't compete against the siren song of the shopping centers. What to do? According to highly-placed, hush-hush sources speaking exclusively to 2Blowhards -- my in-laws, actually, who are longtime S.B. residents -- the town's strategy centered on reorganizing parking on State St. In the '60s and early '70s, cars parked on State at an angle, with their snouts facing the stores. The result was a tangle of drivers jockeying for space and an ocean of cars where you might hope to see a bit of downtown instead. The city chose to banish parking entirely from much of State St., and to construct a bunch of car parks. But not just any ol' car parks. Nope: nice ones, and only a block or two at most off State. To illustrate, here are a few examples of typical crap American car parks. Drearily familiar -- functional, but nothing you'd want to live close to, nothing you'd care to share a block with, and nothing that you'd ever consider remembering fondly. To my mind, these car parks say, This city is losing jobs and people, and is unlikely ever to recover. Now here are a few pix of the attractive-in-their-own-right car parks that Santa Barbara built. Nicely executed California/Spanish theme, no? Plus, what a nice addition to the neighborhood. Facing the street aren't concrete and ramps and a dumb piece of bent metal mesh pretending to be a swell design feature -- instead, there are shops, arches, and stucco. The blocks these facilities help define have their own cheery life. You're happy to be walking along them. The city even showered some thoughtfulness on the interiors. Here's a typical American car park interior: oppressive and ugly, ready to be used as the setting for a kidnapping scene in a crime movie. Here are some pix of S.B. car-park interiors. Amazing how a little stucco, some arches and columns, and a nicely-chosen typeface can turn help turn industrial-style gloom into friendliness. The result of all this car park monkeying-around (and much else I'm not aware of)? A... posted by Michael at September 1, 2003 | perma-link | (3) comments